Raising Reliable Kids

There are many joys that come with having children in your family. They bring play, surprises and often teach us new ways to look at the world. And even though there are days that you wish your young children were predictable and reliable, it is not a skill built in at birth. As children grow older, we expect them to do what they say they will do. Not when they are two – but certainly by the time they are twelve. We can support our children building this skill with intentional opportunities to practice following through on commitments they make at home or fixing mistakes they make.

By creating structure, routine and making life (mostly) predictable for our kids we build the foundation for trust and what they need to eventually grow into reliable adults. When young people experience trusting, reliable relationships with caring adults they build skills for healthy relationships they will use for their whole life. Here are some examples of things you can do at home to support your child’s growing reliability:

  • Model. You already have a grown-up brain so it is important that you do what you say and say what you do. You don’t have to be perfect – but when you make a mistake fix it.
  • Establish routines at home. Routines not only give a sense of structure and safety, they also create a sense of predictability and reliability.
  • Pay attention to development. Children’s brains are not fully mature when they are born and they gradually learn a sense of time, a sense of if-then thinking, and a sense of the connection between words and actions. For example, four-year olds are often fascinated by the power of words and will make up wonderful stories. Don’t count on them matching your reality. You can appreciate them for their developmental appropriateness and join in the fun.
  • Share your experiences about keeping your commitments. “It would be nice to sit and watch TV together tonight, but I told Aunt Sara that we would help her some important paperwork.” Keeping your commitments isn’t always easy.
  • Read Stories As you share stories with your child reflect on the characters behavior. Are they dependable? Can they be trusted? How do you know?
  • Notice and follow through. When your child keeps their word, and does what they say they will do acknowledge it and thank them. If they don’t keep their word, notice that and help them fix their mistake.
  • Remember to connect before correcting. It looks like you are having trouble stopping this game, but if I remember right, you told your dad that you would help him after you played for ten minutes.
  • Learn from mistakes – yours and theirs. None of us get it right all the time. When you make a mistake, apologize and make amends. When one of your children doesn’t keep an agreement or makes a mistake, help them apologize and work out a way to make amends.